“You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me, and that’s why we’re here today.”
At this point on social media, most people have undoubtedly caught the story of Brock Turner, a man who was discovered raping an unconscious and intoxicated woman behind a dumpster at Stanford University. Two witnesses caught him in the act and tackled him as he tried to escape, turning him into the police as his victim was rushed to the hospital.
Turner went to court and was convicted on three accounts with a maximum sentence of 14 years in jail. However, a sympathetic judge gave him what most people are calling a severely light sentence, one of just 6 months. The judge felt that more time in jail would have “had a severe impact on” Turner, an aspiring student who dreams of being in the Olympics. On behalf of the victim, the story has since garnered outrage online.
My own feelings for this case are nothing short of revulsion for the way our society turns its nose up at rape cases and dismisses the victims as unimportant or somehow responsible for what happened to them. For anyone following, it is obvious the Turner case received special handling. In all the articles I have read about the story, very few mention the life of the victim. They refer to her as an “unconscious woman” or as “severely intoxicated” so that readers know that she was, in fact, drunk after attending a party, as if that should remove guilt from her attacker.
Turner’s school portrait was released in place of his mugshot; it’s an image of him smiling goofily and innocently, red-faced and young as if he’d never committed a crime in his life. Only months later, in heavy demand from the public, was his mugshot released, bringing this rich white man down to the level of every other criminal in the US. Articles even list his swimming career, his promising life at Stanford, and how this case has affected him.
The victim released a letter on her experiences. In the letter, she details the shock of waking up in the hospital, pine needles in her hair, bleeding and terrified. She talks about the way the doctors swabbed and poked and prodded her, only allowing her to take a shower after several hours of intense and invasive procedures to preserve evidence. She tells her readers and her attacker that she was terrified of losing the case. That the defense lawyers verbally attacked her for not remembering what happened exactly and constantly listed Turner’s swim times as if they had a bearing on this case. She confesses her disappointment that Turner’s sentence was so light because his impact on her life has changed her forever. After hearing this, the judge still went easy on her attacker, because he did not want the punishment to have a severe impact on the rapist. Isn’t that what punishment is for?
The letter itself is enough to bring tears to the eyes, and the way this case has been handled is a perfect example of the warped way we treat rape victims. Rapists are given light sentences or get off without any punishment at all. People blame the victim, ask what he or she wore, what he or she did, if there was drinking involved, etc.. This is not the way to treat someone who has been attacked. This is not the way we should approach these cases.
This woman has been violently assaulted, violated brutally by a man she did not know. Whether she was stark naked, whether she was so drunk she couldn’t see, whether Turner was going to be the president of the United States, none of that matters now. What matters is that witnesses caught him in the act (one of the young men crying he was so horrified by what he saw). What matters is that Turner was DNA positive, that he was convicted, and that he should have received a heavy sentence for his crimes.
His own father came to his defense and has received backlash for his comment regarding his young son, that he should not be remembered for his quote unquote “20 minutes of action”. Except, the thing is, that 20 minutes of action has changed the life a woman forever, and we should remember that kind of violence. His career, his hopes, and dreams, his swim times, no longer mattered when he decided to rape an unconscious woman behind a dumpster after a party.
Cases like these—handled poorly even when there is no doubt who is guilty—sadly are what rape culture is all about. This is what those feminists and advocates and victims are screaming about when people roll their eyes at them. The posters and online journals begging for change are advocating for an end to special treatment like this.
Rape victims are oppressed, cast out, and accused of lying. They have been abused for too long, and I really hope this case causes a shock wave of change. I encourage people to sign petitions to oust the judge who gave Brock Turner his slap on the wrist. I encourage people to read more about this story and to pay close attention to future rape cases that reach the media. If anything good can come out of this, it’s that more people have learned and can acknowledge these atrocious acts of crime. They are advocating for change, and I hope that the victim of this vicious crime can take some solace in that. Her courage in this has lit a fire, and it is up to us to ensure that that flame continues to burn brightly.
Featured image courtesy of theguardian.com.